Filling The Half-Empty Cup

Mr. Caravaggio’s class was always one of my favorites. Part health teacher, part football coach, Mr. C consistently managed to involve the students in learning rather than just throwing facts in the air. Whether we were debating men versus women or sharing incredibly insane health questions to a chorus of laughter, there was always something bizarre happening in sixth period.

One such lesson revolved around how we viewed the world. As usual, there were two choices – optimists, who accentuate the positive, or pessimists, who dwell on the negative. To answer this question, Mr. Caravaggio offered the age old example.

I have a cup. It is filled to the middle with water. Is it half empty or half full? Guttman. You see a cup sitting there. Is it half empty or half full?

With a purposeful scowl, I responded.

It doesn’t matter. I just figure someone spit in it.

It generated the reaction I was hoping for and left him speechless for a moment. I had derailed the proceedings, which was usually the goal, and left my teacher with a wrinkle in his lesson plan.

Geez. You’re a completely different level. That’s like beyond pessimist. You don’t even see the water.

cupTruth be told, this was more than just a chance to cut up in class. It was how I genuinely viewed the world at the age of 17. My younger years definitely veered into the pessimistic side. Based on many of my life experiences up until that point, there didn’t seem like much to be positive about. It colored how I saw everything, which influenced the things that happened to me.

Of course, if you asked, I would have told you I was a “realist”. That’s the term that someone uses to dance around the fact that they’re really a self-hating pessimist. Strangely, “realists” tend to always have a negative outcome in mind. You’d think if they were “real”, then about half of the time, their premonitions would be positive. Nope. Never positive. Whatever the situation, there’s a good chance of bad things.

Want to go to the movies?

Nah. It’ll be crowded and annoying. I’m sure there will be lots of kids there making noise.

That’s kind of cynical.

I’m not being cynical. I’m being a realist.

That statement, in and of itself, is the most negative statement there can be. At least a pessimist realizes that their view of the world is negative. A “realist” believes that it’s the world that’s negative. They’re simply seeing things for what they truly are.

Looking back now, I can see that my attitude going into these disappointing life experiences played a big role in how many of them played out. If you go into a situation expecting it to be bad, there’ s a huge chance that’s what will happen. Even if it doesn’t, you’ll see it that way because that’s how you’re used to viewing everything around you. You’ll remember the low points and forget the high points. You’re doomed before you even open the door.

I’m not saying that I run around with a big smile on my face all day. That would be crazy. I’m saying that we’re all living this one life right now. That’s it. One set of cards. Complaining won’t change that. No one will ever come over and say, “Hey. I read online that you think your life sucks. Here. I’ll give you a different one.”

Nope. You get the one get. So what’s the point? Stop thinking of life as something you endure and look at it more as something you experience. Do the things you love. Don’t do the things you don’t. If you have to do something you don’t love, work towards doing something else. Don’t do anything you love if it hurts someone else. That’s pretty much it.

I can attribute a lot of this thinking to my sudden quintuple bypass in 2012. I remember waking up in ICU and feeling removed from the world. I had been yanked from a global roleplaying game and forced to sit on the sidelines while it continued around me.

The best way to describe it is like when you leave a job. While you’re there, it feels like the entire world. The sun rises and sets on task-management reports and Fran in accounting. The day you leave, though, it’s over. Done. None of it matters. You’re out. Goodbye task reports.  Goodbye accounting Jan…or Nan…or what was her name? Whatever. It doesn’t matter anymore.

It was a weird time for me and one that I’m sure many others in similar situations have shared. I sat in that hospital bed and was grateful for a chance to live a life that I had been complaining about days earlier. There were so many years spent flinging myself through the day-to-day. I felt like a fool who had been the worst critic of my own story. I didn’t want to do that anymore. Since that day, I haven’t.

Life is tough. Sure. Dragging your feet through it only makes it tougher. Stand up and walk. You’ll be amazed at how wonderful the good moments can be when you focus on them.